Senate adopts resolution asking SC to clarify chamber’s role in ending treaties

Robie de Guzman
 Senate President Vicente Tito Sotto III sponsors Senate Resolution 337 asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is necessary for the abrogation of a treaty. (Senate of the Philippines Facebook Page)

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday agreed to adopt a resolution asking the Supreme Court to clarify the upper chamber’s role in ending treaties following President Rodrigo Duterte’s abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

Twelve senators voted in favor to adopt Resolution No. 337, while seven abstained. No senators voted against the resolution.

The resolution urges the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not the Senate’s concurrence is necessary for the abrogation of a treaty it previously concurred in.

In presenting the resolution on the floor, Senate President Vicente Sotto III emphasized “the need to clarify the question of law citing the grey area in the 1987 Constitution on matters concerning the termination of a treaty.”

“We want clarity and I hope that once and for all the honorable SC could shed light on this purely question of law,” Sotto said in his speech.

Under the Philippine constitution, the Senate’s concurrence is required before a treaty can be ratified but it says nothing on its role when it comes to the termination of treaties and international agreement.

Section 21, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution provides, “no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”

On the other hand, Section 25, Article 18 of the 1987 Constitution states, “after the expiration in 1991 of the agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty, duly concurred in by the Senate and when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

“Although it is clear from the provisions of the 1987 Constitution that the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members is necessary for a validity of a treaty or international agreement, there is obviously a lacuna legis or an absence of an explicit provision in the 1987 Constitution as to whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is necessary for the termination of any treaty earlier concurred in by the Body,” Sotto said.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

Earlier this month, Duterte ordered the formal termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The military deal will be effectively terminated on August 9 or 180 days from the US’ receipt of the notice of termination.

Sotto, however, emphasized that the resolution does not seek to question the president’s decision to withdraw from the military pact.

“The resolution simply seeks to find out if the power to ratify carries with it the power to concur in abrogation,” Sotto said underscoring the Executive’s and the Legislative’s shared competency on treaty-making.

The Senate President also said that the question being raised involves an issue of “transcendental importance” that impacts on the country’s constitutional checks and balances.

“The ambiguity of the concurrence of the Senate in the abrogation of treaty involves an issue of transcendental importance that impact on the country’s constitutional checks and balances,” the measure read.

“It presents a constitutional issue that seriously affects the country’s legal system as well as the country’s relations with the international community,” it added.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed disappointment that the resolution did not get a unanimous vote from the lawmakers.

“All we’re asking the Supreme Court is to define our Constitutional boundaries – nothing else, nothing more. We are not dictating on the Supreme Court. For all you know, the Supreme Court may rule that the Senate’s concurrence is not necessary and that settles the issue,” he said.

The resolution was sponsored by Sotto and co-sponsored by Senators Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Richard Gordon, and Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri. Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Francis Pangilinan, Joel Villanueva, and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto also voted for the resolution.

Those who abstained were Senators Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Imee Marcos, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Francis Tolentino and Cynthia Villar.

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